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ICONS: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Netflix's recently premiered miniseries Arnold follows the journey of Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born athlete from consummate bodybuilding champion to hard-to-come-by movie star to an even more unlikely political career.

Few Hollywood stars have had as prolific and varied a career as Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action star has starred in countless films, worked in politics, entertained crowds for decades, first as a bodybuilder and then as a movie star, becoming synonymous with the silver screen.

One of the first competitions he won as a bodybuilder was the Junior Mr Europe contest in 1965. At the age of 19, he won Mr Europe the following year. Among his bodybuilding victories are five Mr Universe wins (4 – NABBA [UK], 1 – IFBB [USA]) and seven Mr Olympia wins. Schwarzenegger’s goal was to become the world’s greatest bodybuilder. His first attempt at Mr Olympia was in 1969, when he lost to three-time champion Sergio Oliva. But Schwarzenegger returned in 1970 and triumphed, becoming the youngest ever Mr Olympia champion at the age of 23, a record he still holds today. He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of bodybuilding and his legacy is commemorated in the Arnold Classic annual bodybuilding competition. Long after his retirement, he remained a prominent face in bodybuilding, thanks in part to his ownership of gyms and fitness magazines. He has chaired numerous competitions and awards ceremonies.

Schwarzenegger made his screen debut with Hercules in New York (1970). He appeared under the stage name Arnold Strong, and his accent in the film was so strong that his lines were dubbed after the filming. The film was not a great success. His second film appearance was as a mob hitman in The Long Goodbye (1973), followed by a much more prominent role in Stay Hungry (1976), for which he won a Golden Globe Award.

“It was very difficult for me at first – agents and casting people said my body was ‘too weird’, my accent no less, and my name was too long. Basically, everywhere I turned, I was told I had no chance.”

After minor attempts, his real breakthrough film was 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, which went on to become a pretty big hit at the box office. He became a real superstar two years later, when he landed the title role in James Cameron’s sci-fi action film The Terminator. Schwarzenegger then went on to make another fantasy film, Red Sonja, in 1985, followed by a series of successful action films in the 1980s, such as Commando (1985), Raw Deal (1986), The Running Man (1987), The Predator (1987) and Red Heat (1988). He earned $10 million for Total Recall (1990) and received an extra 15% of the film’s gross, but the top spot came the following year: his return as the title character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) became the highest-grossing film of the year. Film critic Roger Ebert noted that “Schwarzenegger’s genius as a movie star lies in finding roles that build on his physical and vocal qualities, not undermine them.” In 1993, he was named International Star of the Decade by the National Association of Theatre Owners. 1993’s action comedy Last Action Hero was a huge flop, thanks to Jurassic Park, which was then rectified with Cameron’s True Lies (1994). The same year saw the release of the comedy Junior, the last of his collaboration with director Ivan Reitman, again starring Danny DeVito. After the critical failure of Batman & Robin (1997), his film career and box office performance began to decline. End of Days (1999) and The Sixth Day (2000) did not do well at the box office. His last major success came in 2003 with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

He eventually traded the cinema for the political stage, and was elected Governor of California in 2003. The actor remained in office until 2011, during which time he took a break from acting to focus on his role as governor. Although his approval rating was initially high, he ended his term as governor with 23%. The actor’s latest projects, the action comedy series Fubar, and the documentary Arnold, which chronicles Schwarzenegger’s extraordinary career in three parts, are both tied to Netflix.